Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What's in a Birthday?

My comment yesterday about a September 11 birthday spawned an interesting e-mail exchange with a friend. I began to ponder just how our birthdays and our names affect who we are and how we feel about ourselves.

I still maintain that having a birthday that is also significant to the majority of the population for another reason has to have an impact on a person. Until 2001, September 11 was just like any other day, but on that fateful day it took on a new significance. I would love to hear from someone who was born on September 11 just how that feels. My friend declared that if it were her birthday, she would celebrate the importance of life. But would you feel like blowing out your candles was just a little too close to the lives that were extinguished on that day?

To the contrary, what about a person who has a birthday of December 25? Would you want to eat your birthday cake as dessert after Christmas dinner? Would you feel you were in some way blessed by sharing a birthday with Jesus Christ? Or would you prefer just to share it with a bunch of regular people?

Personally I always wanted a summer birthday when it was warm out and everyone was enjoying a vacation from school. Instead my birthday of January 5 was just after Christmas and more than once I received a single present intended to cover both.

My friend was born on Friday the 13th. I reminded her that the negative connotation for this date is simply superstitious in nature, not connected in actuality to an enormous and unnecessary loss of life as we experienced on September 11, 2001. And it would only be foreboding every 7th year.

Birthdays are a given, but our names are quite another thing. Many of us have our names because they were popular in the year of our birth. Take mine, for example. How many little Barbara’s do you know today? That became my name because Miss America at the time of my birth was named Barbara. Probably every other Barbara you have ever met was born in 1949.

Last year when New Orleans was devastated by the hurricane of the century, Katrina was on the hit-parade of names. But how many babies have been named Katrina since then? And how many Katrina’s have thought about changing their names to get away from the stigma of a killer hurricane?

We are who we are despite our birthdays and our names. But sometimes they complicate our life in this society that marks time by significant dates and events and personalities.

How do you feel about your birthday and your name?


Blogger Kristin said...

Hurricane Katrina hit on the birthday of our receptionist Katrina - she wasn't too happy about either last year.

My name? That's a long, twisted story involving the woman who's been my stepmom for the past 24 years. I don't go there and I most definitely do not shorten it to Kris. Ever.

My birthday? Labor Day Weekend as often as not. I like having a long weekend; though, I don't really celebrate. I still have unopened presents a week and a half later and I managed to not celebrate my 30th last year. I'm weird. I don't mind getting older. I just don't like the attention.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- I'll always remember to include the "tin" at the end. You just don't seem like a Kris anyway. I think Labor Day weekend is a great time for a birthday. You would never have to take the day off to celebrate! And Labor Day is a positive thing. But unopened presents? That I can't imagine...

10:50 AM  
Blogger Jamy said...

My mom's b-day is Jan 1 and it was a nightmare. Her folks always had a big NYE party and everyone was hung over on her b-day so there was no real celebration for HER.

For years after I moved, I made an effort to be home at New Years to be with her on the day. Sadly, I was sometimes tired/hung over, but I was there.

The names...my mom's name was very popular when she was born. She was determined to give me a more unusual name. And she utterly failed! If only she'd come up with Jamy! :)

11:32 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I have no problem with either my birthday (February 18) or my name (my surname is a little tricky, most cannot pronounce and don’t even bother to try - it is a good Polish sounding name with lots of consonants in improbable combinations and few vowels, some idea can be gleaned from the town name of Szczeczin)

There was a Barbara in my high school class, so her birthday would have been in 1966.

For more occultish mumbo jumbo about your name you can check out the kabalarians and get a free online analysis of your first name.

In some cultures, birthdays have no significance. A Sudanese friend of mine has no idea when he was born - there was no birth certificate. Every year a school inspector would come around and pick out kids that looked old enough to go to school.

Getting passports and stuff was a bit tricky, since they don't know their birthdays, most simply put dawn January 1st. So you get whole families who arrive and they all have January 1st as their birthday. My friend was a rebel, he put June 1st.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Jamy -- The nice things about names is you can take a new one, as you so successfully have done. It's just a matter of training people to use it, when they have first known you by another name. I feel for your mom. I can imagine January 1 is a sucky day for a birthday. Her parents probably never forgave her for screwing up their tax return for the previous year -- but then again maybe that didn't apply when your mom was born.

Richard -- You've disproved my theory about no Barbara's after 1949. I love the story of your Sudanese friend. I would think it might be impossible to officially change your birthday in the US or Canada, but changing your name is not all that hard, so I hear.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My friend and colleague, Deirdre, has a birthday on September 11. D lives and works in NY (Queens and Manhattan). Five years ago she was not celebrating her birthday but anxiously waiting to hear from/about her sister who worked in the Towers. After many hours she learned her sister had taken a later train that was halted well before downtown Manhattan. Because her husband thinks D's birthday is something to celebrate, each year since he takes her away to some exotic location. This year they are in San Diego and I wish her a wonderful birthday week.

Kate (because I am a beta blogger I learned I cannot post a comment here unless I sign in as anonymous!)

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Cee said...

My cousin's birthday is on the 11th of September, but I imagine it doesn't feel any different to her now. The anniversary isn't such a big deal here in Australia - I would have forgotten about it if it weren't for all the American blogs I read. I imagine it would be different for a US citizen though.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Old Lady said...

Hate my name, love my birthday.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kate -- Happy birthday to your friend Deirdre. I'm glad her sister was safe on 9/11.

Cee -- I can imagine that 9/11 isn't a red-letter day in Australia. I can't tell you the dates of recent disasters in Spain or England, but I'm sure people in those countries remember.

OL -- One out of two isn't bad. Care to share the birthday, since we now know that you like it?

10:48 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

My name is so plain...Ruth..my parents called me Ruthie when I was young and many of my friends do too. I spiced it up a little at summer camp one year and started printing it Roothie and many have picked that up.
My B-day, Dec. 22nd kinda gets lost in the Christmas rush but my poor parents did pull off a few good parties for me as a kid! Sometimes I thought it was cool because I'd cash in on extra presents or extra large ones that I wouldn't normally get because people would rationalize that it was my B-day too! Made me the youngest in every class, though! Good thing I was always tall!

11:08 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- You sound like a much better sport about having a birthday close to Christmas than I was. As for diminutive names, I shared one with a doll once upon a time. It's been hard to shake it from some of my friends' memories. You will just be Ruth to me!

11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're blonde, you're perfect and you ARE a doll. You just evoke thoughts of a much greater intellectual capacity than the other one.
I have a January 5th birthday and often got presents that were for Christmas and my birthday (a bike comes to mind). I must have whined thoughout my childhood about the great presents my June sibling got because on my 40th birthday--when I was living in drizzling, cold Oregon--my parents sent me a bathing suit. I don't whine now, I'm just glad to be able to function and enjoy having a birthday. Every day is a gift.

8:10 AM  

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